The state’s finances are in shambles.
The state is facing another probable year of double-digit proration.
The state’s Legislature remains an ineffective, do-nothing body steeped in partisanship and election-year anxieties. Perhaps it shouldn’t return to Goat Hill after spring break.
The state taxes the poor at a higher percentage than it does the well-to-do, but no one with either a gavel or gumption seems to care.
The state’s populace is being fed a steady diet of gambling rhetoric that’s hardly Alabama’s most pressing issue.
And, yet, there’s no shortage of politicians who want to take on Gov. Bob Riley’s daily headaches.
Are they narcissistic? (OK, don’t answer that.) Can’t they see the impossible fiscal problems in Montgomery? The intractability of the state Legislature? The litany of decisions that have no palatable options? The list of critical needs — tax reform, worthwhile legislation, a need to repair the state’s ethical standing — that only eternal optimists would think the next governor could adequately address?
For November’s winner, narcissism may be the least of the concerns.
Sure, being governor’s a sweet gig — even if Paul Hubbert, the chief of the Alabama Education Association, wields more behind-the-scenes power. Just ask Riley, who between Amendment 1’s failure in 2003 and his current illogical fixation on electronic bingo became the shining example of what equates to a good Southern governor in the 21st century.
With a booming national economy, the ability to recruit international industries and a constant message of improving the state’s public education offerings, Riley’s enjoyed more good years in office than bad. Six, in fact.
Of course, the economy’s no longer booming, recruiting international industries is no longer a slam-dunk, and improving public education — or, in truth, keeping it at its current level — is daunting when the state’s cracked financial system needs spackle.
This time next year, Riley may be glad he’s back home in Clay County. It’s quiet there, a respite from the hustle of being the state’s public face.
By then, all this will be someone else’s problem.
Like Bradley Byrne, the Republican who cleaned up the fetid two-year college system.
Or Artur Davis, the Democrat who, if elected as Alabama’s first black governor, would instantly become a bigger headline than power broker.
Or Roy Moore, the Republican and Ten Commandments judge who still has a fanatical cadre of supporters.
Or Ron Sparks, the Democrat who’s hanging his hat on a few controversial nails: expanding — yes, expanding — gambling in Alabama, taxing it, and starting a state lottery. Hardly original ideas, but, hey, they’re something.
Or Republican Tim James, Fob’s son. Or Republican Kay Ivey, the state Treasurer who can’t escape that four-letter acronym: PACT. Or Robert Bentley, another GOPer crammed into the green room of Republican candidates. Or … well … it’s a long list.
One of ’em will be Alabama’s next governor.
Which isn’t the point.
Instead, it’s that despite Alabama’s encyclopedic list of woes — in matters fiscal, personal, political and industrial — there’s no shortage of politicians who want to inherit the responsibility of shepherding the state through more years of intense yet short-term obstacles.
Political aspirations, especially those in Montgomery, don’t often face derailment because of the state’s troublesome paths.
Yet, let’s not kid ourselves. Montgomery’s full of egos who want Alabama’s ultimate power trip. Some — though not all, thankfully — seem more personality than leaders of people. And their parties, engrossed in the uber-partisanship that’s enveloping Washington, will sell their souls to either (a.) keep Alabama’s governor’s chair warmed by a Republican or (b.) have a Democrat plop into that chair for the first time in eight years.
The primaries are June 1. This election hasn’t caught fire — yet.
When it does, Davis and Sparks will bleed each other in an unmerciful two-man race, and the gaggle of Republicans will wage a conflict of attrition and campaign dollars. It won’t be for the weak or poorly funded.
What Alabamians must hope for is that Riley’s successor wants this job because of dedication to a seemingly impossible mission. It’s a mission of sweat and strain and tough decisions. This state’s imperfections and faults can’t, and won’t, be repaired overnight.
If Alabama elects an ego instead of a leader, well, it’s our own fault. Thankfully, we have a few months to figure all that out.
Phillip Tutor — email@example.com — is The Star’s commentary editor.